An international Christian organization has voiced its concern over news that the Muslim Brotherhood's leader is to become the speaker of Egypt’s newly-minted Parliament, a move that heightens fears that Egypt's Christian community could very well be in danger.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) nominated its Secretary-General, Mohamed Saad al-Katatni, to lead the country's first Parliament chosen since the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak during the Arab Spring uprisings.
It is the first time in decades that an Islamist is taking over that post, according to CNN.
Muslim politicians are expected to dominate Egypt’s Parliament as Islamists of various stripes – including the radical Salafists – are expected to win 60 percent of the 498 elected seats in the assembly's lower house, with the Brotherhood taking some 41 percent, according to estimates.
Although the situation of religious minorities under Mubarak was far from ideal, Egypt saw a rise in acts of violence against the Coptic Christian community in the immediate aftermath of the autocratic ruler's toppling.
Egypt is a majority Muslim country, with Muslims constituting some 90 percent of the population. Christians are the main minority distinguished by most statistics, with Coptic Christians constituting 9 percent of the population and the remaining Christian denominations 1 percent, according to the CIA Factbook.
Since 2008, Copts have endured dozens of assaults, including the 2011 New Year‘s Day church bombing in Alexandria that left 23 dead – the worst sectarian strike against Egypt‘s Christians in a decade, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom‘s (USCIRF) 2011 report on global religious freedom.
“With public attention focused on the unfolding political drama in Egypt, a number of world leaders, including President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI, have expressed serious concern about the dramatic upsurge in attacks against that nation‘s largest religious minority, the Coptic Orthodox Christian community,” the USCIRF report reads.
“For years, President Hosni Mubarak‘s government tolerated widespread discrimination against religious minorities, from Copts to Baha‘is and dissident Muslims, while allowing state-controlled media and state-funded mosques to deliver incendiary messages against them,” it continues. “Materials vilifying Jews have appeared regularly in the state-controlled and semi-official media. Egypt‘s government not only neglected to protect religious minorities against violence, but failed to punish those responsible for it.”
“In May 2011, Salafists were responsible for attacking two churches and killing twelve people, mainly Christians, in Cairo. The same group now holds one-fourth of the seats in Egypt’s new Parliament and there is no evidence to suggest that violence committed by the Salafists will cease,” Aidan Clay, International Christian Concern (ICC) Regional Manager for the Middle East, said in a statement emailed to CP. “Instead, Salafists will be eager to push the country toward Islamism and, in doing so, will target Christians, liberals, and women demanding rights.”
“The question remains: will the Muslim Brotherhood be driven by Salafists toward radicalism, or will they continue to appease the West and liberals by appearing moderate? In either case, continuing attacks on Christians are inevitable.”
Many Christians and moderates fear that an Islamist majority in Parliament will use its power to base the nation's constitution on Sharia law, which will greatly restrict the rights of non-Muslims, local sources have told ICC.
“Somewhere between two-thirds and 80 percent of Egyptian Muslims support radical Islamist parties. Only the army, which is eager to suppress moderates but would rather make deals than fight the Islamists, stands in the way of radicalization,” Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center in Herzliya, Israel told ICC.
Egypt’s courts have demonstrated increasing independence, and the principles of due process and judicial review have gained greater respect since the Jan. 25 Revolution, according to the U.S. Department of State. Still, marriage and personal status (family law) are primarily based on the religious law of the individual concerned, which for most Egyptians is Islamic law, or Sharia.
Al-Katatni is described as a moderate on the Brotherhood's website. He was detained by Mubarak's state security forces together with Freedom Justice Party leaders, according to CNN.
Al-Katatni said in May the Brotherhood had nearly 9,000 members, including 978 women and 93 Coptic Christians.
“The party is open to all Egyptians, Muslims and Copts alike,” he said at the time.